We use trees as shelter, food, fuel, furniture, sports equipment, synthetic cloth…
Wood is everywhere. Think about it … nearly everything we touch and use has a tree source. We use trees as shelter, food, fuel, furniture, sports equipment, synthetic cloth, huge ultra-modern windmill propellers, patterns for metalwork, and a myriad of other uses. The history and decline of civilizations can be traced by their use and sometimes overuse of wood resources.
There are really only a few ways to successfully join wood, whether building a house or a chair. The greatest challenge, beyond fashioning a log into boards, is joining the wood components at right angles to one another. The earliest archaeological examples all exhibit typical joinery – no matter where in the world they are found. Joints do more than make use of small pieces of wood. They make frames, increase length, and make large surfaces of solid wood. Many of these ancient methods were still found after the advent of metal fasteners (nails, screws, etc.) simply because the joints had proven so strong.
The strongest method for joining wood at right angles is the mortise-and-tenon. This ancient joint is found in Egyptian furniture thousands of years old. The joint is like a squarish peg (the tenon) fitted precisely to a squarish hole (the mortise). There are literally hundreds of variations on the mortise-and-tenon joint, each suited to particular purpose or craft tradition. The most common tenon is rectangular in cross-section, as is the mortise. This gives great resistance to twisting forces. You can probably guess that a round mortise-and-tenon is not as strong. The tighter the fit, and the longer and taller the tenon, the stronger the joint will be. The so-called through-tenon, with the tenon completely penetrating the mortise-bearing member, is the strongest of all. It is important that the tenon not slide out of the mortise, whether the joint is for furniture, house, or ship. The most common means to secure the tenon is a peg, which fits into a hole near the opening of the mortise. In some cases, such as portable furniture, lashing is also used in combination. Wedges which spread the tenon in the mortise are sometimes seen. This also prevents the tenon from being pulled out of the mortise.
Probably the next development in joinery was the dovetail joint, which is often seen in box or drawer construction. The joint is comprised of a wedge-shaped tenon (the “tail”) on one component which overlaps a corresponding wedge-shaped slot in a second component. The portion of wood surrounding these slots is called the “pin.” Except in the case of decorative joinery, all the pins are on one board, all the tails on another. The term “dovetail joint” can refer to one tail, or many in a row, such as on a drawer side. As in the case of mortise-and-tenon, the strongest dovetail joint is made when the pins and tails go all the way through the joint.
In the best mortise-and-tenon and dovetail joinery, no glue is required.
Taking all of this into consideration is vital in making your furniture selections while out shopping today’s marketplace. The construction of your next sofa, bedroom suite or dining set will play a substantial role in it’s durability and dictate the length of time before your next purchase is necessary. Best practice would be to ask not only what materials are used in the furniture you are considering but to also inquire as to how it is constructed.